Monday, August 11, 2008

Essumasay Community?

In my list of blog ideas, there’s one called “excuses not to paint.” This morning I’d like to consider excuses not to blog. You have, for the week, a resident two-year old. You have a show to install. A dentist appointment. A sudoku lures. You know how it goes. The two-year old and I got into a private joke about coasters of the kind you set your drink on to keep from making a ring on great-grandmother’s cherry table.

My set of coasters features 50’s ski babes each saying something with double entendre. “I have to get down how?” “The word on the slopes was . . . she was fast!” “Did somebody say coke?” It was the two-year old’s job to hand me a coaster, and my job to read it aloud. Her favorite, “Did somebody say coke?” became “essumasay coke?” Language evolves, as has the meaning of coke.

The concept of community, both in general and as it applies to theater, has also evolved to mean different things to different groups of people. Community once meant a close-knit geographical entity, the village or town. Now we have communities of common interests, often widely separated by geographic location. Community theater in the UK engages local political and social issues. In the US, community theaters are formed by volunteers with a great love for the performing arts, who re-produce classics and Broadway hits. It’s a struggle to keep these US groups going in the face of changing demographics, the explosion in entertainment options, and a stumbling economy. But it’s not just a question of everybody wanting the same dollar. The true bottom line is that to remain viable, community theater groups must develop new programming that draws in new audiences, incorporates multiple types of performance, and engages contemporary issues, while at the same time remaining a source for the classics and being an attractive venue for up-and-coming actors. In a word, community theater must re-define itself in terms of changed communities.

Now I’m off to install that visual arts show. Back next week . . . .

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